Photo: The Nick Stenson Beauty hair care collection is made with ingredients that are naturally inspired and organically enhanced through carefully selected protein and extract blends.
As an educator, brand founder, celebrity stylist, and influencer, Nick Stenson, the senior vice president, store and services operations for Ulta Beauty, has had the opportunity to work with countless product lines to create his award-winning styles. This experience told him what he wanted—and didn’t want—in a product.
In November 2022, a new collection of moisture-rich and volumizing hair care products was made available to professionals and consumers when he launched Nick Stenson Beauty. The line is a fulfillment of a long-held ambition, while also being a gift to an industry he loves so much.
Photo: "This has been a dream of mine since I got into the business, to one day have my signature on something—and to put my heart into it."--Nick Stenson, founder of Nick Stenson Beauty
The brand is available on NickStensonBeauty.com, on SalonCentric and through Ulta Beauty. Since the launch, Stenson and his team have been bringing the line to the world, using Nick Stenson Beauty backstage at New York Fashion Week, on set at photo shoots, and inside salons with their clients.
We wanted to know what it was like for Stenson to realize his vision and to add “Brand Founder” to his already-impressive resume. MODERN spent time with Stenson to give us this behind-the-brand story.
A Q&A with Nick Stenson
MODERN SALON: While many beauty professionals might dream of starting their own line, most will not know how to begin or what first steps to take. In your experience, what was the most important thing to define first?
NICK STENSON: Before you even start on formulations and packaging, you need to have a buttoned-up, 360’ business plan that answers all the questions: What is this brand? Why is it important to the market place? Why is it important to you? What gap does it fill? What is your point of difference? This foundation needs to be built and you need to flesh all of this out before you can move on and start creating your product.
MS: What problems did you solve for yourself as an editorial stylist in the development of your product line?
NS: I wanted to solve a couple of things. One is that I feel like the space for hair has gotten complicated; there are so many products, and we have confused the consumer. I wanted to create a brand that is tight, and every product solves a need, and can be combined or used differently to create different end results.
With Nick Stenson Beauty, it makes it easy to tell the—cleanse, condition, care—story to the consumer. It allows you to easily walk them through the process, so they know what to use and when, and then how to use it...in the shower, out of the shower, after the blow dry and before you walk out the door, it becomes clear: here is what you reach for from the line.
The second thing is helping stylists and their clients replicate that in-salon style. So often when we ask our clients, ‘How was your hair last time?’ the response is, ‘I love my hair, it looks great, but it never looked as good as it did the day I left the salon.’
I always took this as an insult, as if I didn’t do my job in educating on how to recreate this look. The product application and styling process during your service shouldn’t be such a departure from what you learn to do at home.
MS: Your ingredient sourcing is a big part of your launch story—what about Aloe Vera made it important to incorporate into your formulas?
NS: It goes back to when I was a kid and both my grandmothers had an Aloe Vera plant in the house. Every time one of us got a scrape or scratch, they would grab an Aloe stem from their plant. I came to recognize Aloe Vera Gel as a healer; it contains vitamins A, C, E, and B-12 and high levels of plant-based collagen, and this translates into our formulas to heal and strengthen the hair.
Also, I wanted to make sure I didn’t overcomplicate the ingredient story: everyone knows what Aloe Vera is, it’s very simple and relatable.
MS: How did you test your products in real life salon situations? And what kind of adjustments or refinements did you make along the way?
NS: I had a pool of 32 different stylists that I worked with to test the formulations; they would use it on everyday clients, and I would use it on photo shoots, and on my clients behind the chair. Some products went through 6 or 7 rounds of trial and some went through 19 or 20 rounds of edits.
It took over 7 years to come to market because I wanted to make sure I wasn’t coming out with just another product line. I wanted to ensure you were drawn in by the packaging and surprised by the way it smelled and excited by the way it performed.
There were chemists and mentors I worked with who looked at me standing there with beakers, adjusting the nuances of the products, over and over, who said, ‘It’s good enough, get it to market.’ But I said, no, it’s not right, yet.
The other day, I needed some hairspray and because I’ve kept every version of the formulas in my house, I grabbed an earlier version and sprayed it on my hair—and it was not good. I thought, see, it was worth going at it again and again. It was a lengthy process, but in the end I am so glad I did it.
Ultimately, the coolest compliment I get is when a hairdresser loves it. They are so specific about what they want a hairspray to do for them, and they recognize a good product that works.
MS: While all these products are described as ‘hero’ products, if you had to pick two to three must-haves from the line, which would they be?
NS: For years, I have worked for brands that have launched new collections and they say, this is the hero product –which makes it sound as if only one is good and the others are subpar. I created 12 SKUs and I wanted to make sure that on its own, each was a hero in its own category.
But if I had to call out a few, the Hydrating Oil is really a standout and people are gravitating to it both on the consumer and pro side. It’s a really unique product, it doesn’t build up in the hair, and can be used on all different hair textures.
The Leave-in Conditioner is about repair and reconstruction and is quite special. It’s perfect for someone with fine hair who has maybe colored it one too many times. When this is added before using any heat elements (blow dryer, curling iron), you provide the hair with a protective layer.
The Texture Spray has a nice grit and texture with hold, as if the hairspray and the dry shampoo had a baby.
MS: Why did this feel like a good point in your career to take on this new challenge, and develop a product line?
NS: This has been a dream of mine since I got into the business, to one day have my signature on something—and to put my heart into it.
I have always respected the many people who have preceded me—Arnie Miller (founder of Matrix Essentials), John Paul DeJoria (Paul Mitchell co-founder)— founders who started with small ideas and built something that offered opportunities to all of us in the industry. I have so much appreciation for what they have done and the heart that went into it.
I felt like we had been missing some of that “heart.” My goal was to remember my roots in this business, being born and raised in it, and to come from that place of still being so excited, 23 years later.
Before I came to ULTA Beauty, I shared with them that I was developing this line and that I was on this journey. It was agreed that I would work on my line in tandem with my day-to-day ULTA Beauty responsibilities and it hasn’t conflicted. Then the pandemic happened, and my role evolved, which is why it took so long for this to come to market.
But when I finally felt like I had the formulas in the right place, it was also when we were looking around after the worst of the pandemic and hoping for something new to excite us. I hope Nick Stenson Beauty is that thing.
Follow Nick Stenson (@nickstenson) and Nick Stenson Beauty (@nickstensonbeauty).
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